Rockford Brewing Company is a product of the town, very much a part of this small west Michigan community.
Situated along the Rogue River in the heart of downtown, the outside of the building boasts touches of natural wood, alluding to the warmth you’ll find inside. Enter into the building and you’ll find the main pub — with tables and chairs built specifically for the brewery, harvested from a forest in Michigan.
Upstairs is the beer hall, with big long wooden tables and a wide open room, perfect for families during the day and also used as Rockford’s music venue, three days a week.
Rockford Brewing Company is all about hand crafted. From the interior, the local musicians that are highlighted (no cover bands here) and especially the beer, Seth Rivard and Jeff Sheehan, co-owners, purposely focus on the quality of their ingredients, the quality of their staff, and integrity of brand.
Rivard and Sheehan, coincidentally, were both looking to start a brewery in Rockford at the same time. While working with the city, Rivard discovered Sheehan was looking to do the same thing. “We talked and decided to team up instead of compete. It was a perfect fit,” says Rivard.
Just off the cusp of celebrating the brewery’s second anniversary, RBC is going stronger than ever, distributing mainstays and specialty, seasonal brews across the state.
“We have four or five regulars that we’ve had since we opened,” shares Rivard, “Our Carriage House, which is our lightest offering, a blonde ale. Our Hoplust IPA, with six different hop varieties, hence the name. Our Sheehans Irish Stout — a dry, smooth stout. People around here get mad if we run out — there’s a good following in town. Our Rogue River Brown, named after the brown trout in our river, and our Paradigm MPA.”
The Paradigm MPA, or Michigan Pale Ale, was introduced last spring, and has become quite popular throughout the state.
“The Paradigm is something we hang our hat on,” says Rivard. “It’s 100% Michigan grown ingredients, and we are one of the only brewery — if not the only — in the state with a year round offering of a 100% Michigan beer. We work with a barley farmer in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan Malt Company, and Hopyards of Kent, which isn’t too far from here. We distribute more of that than anything else.”
Supporting local community, Michigan culture and agriculture is something Rockford Brewing Company prides itself on. Just looking at the logo — a hand-tied fly (for fishing) — it’s not something common or representative of the beer world, but definitely something you associate with the city itself. Hand crafted beer, hand-tied fly — it makes sense. The folks of RBC share a love of the outdoors, and a healthy and active lifestyle.
In addition to the beer, Rockford Brewing Company hosts many outdoor events, such as the popular bike ride from Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids (Coq to the Fly) and vice versa (Fly to the Coq) through the White Pine Trail.
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The Permaculture Series is one of the ways that RBC incorporates that fresh, healthy attitude into its beers. Based entirely upon local farmers’ seasonal offerings, using only ingredients that are fresh and available within the time period of creating that beer.
“Let’s say when we work with strawberries, we have to wait until they are actually ready to harvest. And then that beer takes a little while to make. So, our seasonal brews are a little behind the traditional season, but true to the season. As opposed to making, for example, a pumpkin ale in June to have it out in August. That’s not seasonal. You’re drinking a beer because it feels right in the season, but where did the pumpkin come from?” says Sheehan.
Starting with its Ain’t Jemima, a Maple Sap beer, expanding to options such as the Rubarb Radler, Raspberry Duality, and more, the Permaculture Series currently stands at 12 offerings throughout the year, with possibilities to expand only limited by crops available and the brewers imaginations.
“It’s the purest way to do it and we are very proud of the work we do with the farmers. It’s a little challenging to coordinate, but we believe it’s worth it,” Sheehan comments.
Building relationships with customers, the community, the farmers who grow their product and RBC employees is what makes the business.
“I like to tell our employees we are hopefully creating a culture that is a lifestyle, and beer is one component of it. We all have different lives, but we all have beer in common,” says Sheehan.
“The people of Rockford Brewery make the business. Yes, we make beer, but it’s not who we are, it’s part of who we are. It’s important to keep that in mind and to balance everything. It’s important for me— and Seth [Rivard] — to allow people to have the time and space to do what else they want to in their lives as well.”
Culture carries, and people who value the culture of craft beer seem to recognize the value of balance. It’s a cumulative effort, from owner to brewers to staff, to bring that harmonious attitude to the product and service they provide. Rockford certainly does that well.
Future expansions include an in-house kitchen and a rooftop deck. Look for Michigan-centric food to be on RBC’s menu, as well as beer, in the future.